Grammar in the student-centered composition class.

Author:Oldenburg, Scott

There are few things less exciting and more conservative than teaching grammar, yet even at the university level, instructors find students lacking the ability to consistently form complete sentences or to make pronouns agree with their referents. True, standard English changes over time and to insist on antiquated diction would be folly indeed, but public discourse has its rules, and to some degree it has become the composition instructor's responsibility to introduce students to those rules. Few want to teach the complexities of modifier placement and the beauty of correlative conjunctions, however. Most instructors of composition would rather lead students to engage in important debates, to learn about alternative points of view, to become critical thinkers and writers.

At the same time, we ought to recognize the injustice of allowing students to continue making basic mechanical errors that may prevent them from expressing themselves well in written assignments in our own or other classes or getting the job they want when they graduate. Many instructors order Writing handbooks--all of them pretty similar in content--and hope that red marks on assignments will lead the bewildered student to open the handbook to figure out how to undangle, for example, dangling modifiers. Most students, unfortunately, are both intimidated and bored by these grammar texts.

Many teachers occasionally teach specific grammar points or quiz students on readings from their grammar handbooks with mixed success. These methods of teaching grammar reflect a teacher- rather than student-centered pedagogy, and I suspect most college-level students have already been taught in this way to no avail. For these reasons, I have developed a more student-centered way of integrating grammar in the composition classroom.

The students in my composition classes at SUNY Buffalo and Erie Community College teach the grammar. I have compiled a list of the twelve most common grammar problems that occur in...

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